by Larry Johnson
In April 2020, COVID-19 was raging, and no vaccine was yet in sight. People were scared. People were dying. We had to isolate ourselves from our families, our friends and our neighbors.
I wanted to find a way to stay in touch. I wanted to find a way to offer words of hope and encouragement. One of my grandsons taught me how to make a video on my iPhone and then upload it to YouTube and Facebook. And thus was born my weekly series of short videos on subjects ranging from the longevity of bowhead whales to What It Means to Be an American. Through it, I expressed my outrage and condemnation of the heinous and frightening attack on our U.S. Capitol by a lawless mob last January, as well as my praise and gratitude for the countless number of wonderfully positive examples, of acts of heroism and kindness, carried out each day by teachers, first responders, doctors, nurses and ordinary citizens.
One such example involved a 79-year-old man who asked for hair and makeup lessons at a beauty college in Alberta, Canada, in order to help his wife of 50 years who was losing her eyesight and burning herself with a curling iron. To keep her safe, he wanted to be able to do her hair for her. The school staff showed him how to use a curling iron and how to apply mascara. A few days later, the man returned with his wife to proudly introduce her to everyone. The director at the school said the woman’s hair looked “absolutely gorgeous.”
I was truly grateful to have been given this platform to share my views, my observations and my concerns. But I was even more grateful to the hundreds who chose to watch and listen, for the sharing of their comments their personal stories, their opinions and their insights. It was a marvelously meaningful experience for me.
I have now gathered together all 60 weekly episodes and published them in a book on Amazon which I call “What Color Is Air,” because it was the title of one of the most popular of my commentaries.
Is it because I’m blind that skin color doesn’t matter to me? I used to think so. How could it matter if I can’t see it? So, if everyone was blind, then there’d be no prejudice. Right?
Well, maybe not. A blind man in Travis County, Texas filed for divorce early last year after 32 years of marriage, claiming that his wife hid from him the fact that she was black. The story would be absurdly funny if it weren’t so painfully racist. The man said that he didn’t learn that his wife was African-American until a friend told him three weeks earlier. The man’s bigotry no doubt came from odious thoughts placed in his mind by his parents when he was a child. Prejudice is not based on skin color but on ignorance and malice.
In May of last year Laura Kennedy, a 41-year-old Caucasian woman, was brutalized, handcuffed, and arrested in her own home in Washington, D.C. by officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the National Guard because they were mistakenly told by neighbors that she was an African-American looter. She was held for 8 hours, until her lawyers showed up and obtained her release. The police blamed the woman’s use of tanning lotion for their confusion.
Clayton Bigsby is a fictional character created and portrayed by comedian Dave Chappelle for Comedy Central. Bigsby is a blind black man who mistakenly believes that he is white. Woefully unaware of his true identity, in one scene Bigsby speaks to an audience of white supremacists while wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe. At the request of an attendee, he removes his hood, leaving the audience flabbergasted when it’s revealed the popular white supremacist is actually black. Ebony magazine lauded the character for “bringing stereotypes and harsh realities of a culture to the mainstream” and as a commentary on the absurdity — the literal and figurative blindness — of racism.
As the patriarch of a large multiracial family, I am deeply disappointed and profoundly saddened by our society’s continuing inability to recognize all its members as equals and to treat everyone with equal dignity and respect. For in the end, we are all more alike than we are different. We hope. We dream. We love. And the air we breathe has no color.